Charles W. (Charles Watts) Whistler.

A prince of Cornwall : a story of Glastonbury and the West in the days of Ina of Wessex online

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Oswald ? Will men help a Saxon ? "

" This must be between ourselves, King Ina,"
Jago said plainly. " It is in my mind that if
Oswald and I or some known lord of the British will
go to that place and sit there quietly with rewards
in our hands, we may learn much ; for men fear
Cerent the king in his wrath, and they fled from his

" So be it," said Ina. " Oswald shall go, and it
seems to me that every day is precious, so that he
shall go at once. Is there thought that Owen
may be taken out of the country, as Oswald was
taken ? "

" Every port and every fisher is watched, and has
been so. For that was the first thing we feared.
And word has gone to Howel of Dyfed and Mordred
of Morganwg, farther up the channel, that they
should watch their shores also. Nought has been
left undone that may be done."

So it came to pass that on the next morning Jago
and I rode away together along the great road that
leads westward to Exeter and beyond, asking each
train of chapmen whom we met if there was yet
news, and hearing nought but sorrow for the loss of
the prince they had hailed with such joy again.
Nor did we draw rein, save to change horses, till we
clattered up the ancient paved street of the city on


its hill, and dismounted at the gates of the white
palace where Cerent waited me.

There the first man who came out to greet me
was one whom I was altogether glad to see, though
his presence astonished me for a moment. Howel
of Dyfed passed from the great door and bade me

" It is a different meeting from that which we
had planned, Thane," he said, somewhat sadly. " I
am here to help you if I can ; for when we heard
that Owen was lost much as you were, we came over
straightway, there being reasons of her own which
would not let Nona rest till we had sailed. Presently
you will hear them from herself, for she is here.
Glad am I to see you."

" There is no fresh hope ? " I asked, as we went in.

" None ; but we hope much from you. At least,
your coming will cheer the old king, for he is well-
nigh despairing."

Now I was prepared to see some change in Gerent
by reason of all this sorrow and trouble, but not for
all that was plain when I first set eyes on him
presently. Old and shrunken he seemed, and his
voice was weary and dull. Yet there came a new
light into his eyes as he saw me, and he greeted
me most kindly, bidding me, after a few words of
welcome, to rest and eat awhile after the long ride,
before we spoke together of troubles.

So in a little time I sought him again, and found
him in a room with warm sunlight streaming into
it, making the strange pictured walls bright and
cheerful, and yet somewhat overdose for one who
loves the open air or the free timbered roof that loses


itself in the smoke-wreaths overhead, with the wind
blowing through it as it blows through the forest
whence it was wrought, and with twitter of birds
to mind one of that also. Nevertheless, the old king
in his purple mantle with its golden hem over the
white linen tunic, and his little golden circlet on his
curling white hair, seemed in place there, even as
I minded thinking that Owen in his British array
seemed in place.

Now Howel stood where Owen was wont to stand,
and the only other in the room was the lady, who
rose from the king's side to greet me.

And if her smile was a little sad, it was plain
that Nona the princess was glad as her father to
see her guest again, and I will say that to me the
sight of her was like a bright gleam in the grey of
sadness that was over all things. It did not seem
possible that she and trouble could find place

So I greeted her, and she went back to her place
quickly, for hardly would Gerent wait for us to
speak a few words before he would talk of that
which was in all his thoughts ; and then came Jago
and stood at the door, guarding it as it were against

Now the old king told me all that I had heard
from his thane already, and I must tell what I
thought thereof, and that was little enough beyond
what I have said, and at last, when he seemed to
wait for me to ask him more, I put a question
that had come into my mind as I rode, and asked
if there might be any chance of Morfed the priest
having a hand in the matter. And at that the


king's frown grew black, and he answered fiercely :
" Morfed, the mad priest ? Ay, why had not I
thought of him before? Look you, Oswald, into
my hall of justice he came, barefoot and ragged
from his wanderings, but a few days before Owen
left me ; and before all the folk, high and low, who
were gathered there he cried out on all those who
spoke for peace with the men who owned the rule
of Canterbury, and who held traffic with the Saxon
who has taken our lands. And Owen was for
speaking him fair, seeing that he was crazed, but
I bade him be silent, telling the priest that what
was lost is lost, and there needed no more said
thereof; and that if the men of Austin and we
differed it was not the part of Christian men to
make the difference wider, even as Owen and
Aldhelm were wont to say. And at that he raved,
and threatened to lay the heaviest ban of the Church
on Owen, and on all who held with him, and so he
was taken from my presence, and I have seen him
no m,ore. But he was a friend of Morgan."

" That is the priest who was with Dunwal, surely,"
Howel said.

" The same," I answered " and I was warned of
him," and I looked toward the princess, and she
smiled a little and flushed.

" I mind how he glared at Oswald across my
table," Howel said. " But one need fear little from
him, as I think. Who will heed a crazy priest ? "

" Many," answered Cerent. " The more because
they deem him inspired. I will have him taken and
brought to me."

There fell a little uneasy silence after that out-


burst of the king's, but I felt that I had not yet
heard all that they would tell me. So we waited
for the old king to speak, and at last he turned
suddenly to the princess, setting his thin white hand
on her shoulder, and said : " Now tell Oswald what
foolishness brought you here, Nona, daughter of
Howel, that he may say what he thinks thereof."

" Maybe he also will think it foolishness, King
Cerent," she said in her low clear voice. " But
however that may be, I will tell him, for in what
I have to say may be help. I cannot tell, but
because it might be so I begged my father to
bring me hither. It was all that I could do for
my god-father."

There was just a little quiver in her lip as she
said this, and the fierce old king's face softened

" Nay," he said, " I meant no unkindness. I
forgot that it is not right to speak to a child as
to grown warriors. It is long since there was a
lady about the place who is one of us."

Then Nona smiled wanly, and set her hand on
that of the old king, and kept it there while she

" Indeed, Thane, it may be foolishness, and now
perhaps as time goes on it begins to seem so to me.
Once, as I know now, on the night when Owen first
slept in his new house on the moor, I dreamed that
he was in sore danger, for I seemed to see shadows
of men creeping everywhere round the house that
I have never set eyes on ; and again, on the next
night, and that was the night of the burning,
I saw the house in flames, and men fought and fell


around it among the flickering shadows, but I did
not seem to see Owen. And then on the next
night, soon after I first slept, I woke trembling with
the most strange dream of all. I think that the
light had hardly gone from the west, but the moon
had not yet risen. I dreamed that I stood at the
end of a narrow valley, whose sides were of tall
cliffs of rough grey stone, and in the depth of the
valley I saw a great menhir standing on the farther
side of a black pool. And all the surface of the
pool was rippling as if somewhat had disturbed it,
and set upright in the ground on this side was a
sword, like to that which King Ina gave you, Thane
ay, that which you wear now, not like my father's
swords. And I thought that I heard one call on
your name."

Now I heard Jago stifle a cry behind me, and
as for myself I stood silent, biting my lip that I
might know that I was not dreaming also, and I
saw that Howel was looking at me in a wondering
way,, while Cerent glowered at me. All the time
that she had been speaking, Nona had looked on
the ground, in some fear lest we should smile at
this which had been called foolishness, and I was
glad when the king broke the silence with a short

" Well, Oswald, what think you of this ? On my
word, it seems that you half believe in the foolishness
that some hold concerning dreams."

" I would not hold this so," said Howel, " seeing
that she has dreamed of things that did take place,
as we know too well."

" Fire and fighting ? Things, forsooth, that every


village girl on the Saxon marches is frayed with
every time she sleeps."

So said Cerent, and I answered him

" Foolishness I cannot call this, either, Lord King.
I also have seen the same in the night watches. I
have seen pool and menhir, and the cliffs that hem
them, even as the princess saw them. And I woke
with the voice of Owen in my ears."

" Dreams, dreams ! " the old king said. " Go to,
you do but tell me these trifles to please me, and as
if to give me hope that in such an unheard-of place
we shall find him whom we have lost. Say no
more, but go your ways on the morrow and search.
And may you find your dream valley and what is

He rose up impatiently, and Howel gave him
his arm from the room. Jago followed him, and
when the heavy curtain fell across the doorway,
Nona, who had risen with Gerent, turned to

" I am sure now that there we shall find Owen,"
she said, with a new light of hope in her eyes.
" And also I am sure that at the bottom of all the
matter is Morfed the priest."

" It was a needed warning against him that I
had from your hand, Princess," I said ; " now let me
thank you for it."

" I am glad you had it safely, for indeed I feared
for you with those people on the ship with you.
What has become of them ? "

I told her the fate of Dunwal, so far as I knew
it. I did not then know that Gerent had put an
end to his plotting once for all two days after Owen


was lost. As for his daughter, I knew no more
than Jago told the ealdorman.

Then she said : " Now I would ask you to speak
to my father, that he would let me go with you to
Dartmoor, that I may help you search. I do not
like to be far from him, but he says there may be
danger. Which makes me the more anxious not
to leave him, as you may suppose."

She smiled, but as I made no answer she went on :
" And maybe Owen will need nursing when you find
him. They say he was sorely wounded. Ay, I
am sure we shall find him, else why did we have
these strange visions? And I think that were he
not disabled altogether he would have won to free-
dom in some way."

" It is that wounding that makes me fear the
worst," I said in a low voice ; for indeed the
thought of Owen as hurt, in the care, or want
of care, of those who hated him, was not easy
to be borne. " It is my fear that we shall be too

" Nay, but you must not fear that," she said
quickly. " That is no sort of mind in which you
have to set to work. I will think rather that they
have carried him to some safe tending. There will
be time enough to dread the worst when it is certain.
There was nought in the dreams to make us think
that he was dead."

The bright face and voice cheered me wonderfully,
and for the moment, at least, I felt sure that our
search would not fail. Then I tried to persuade
her not to come with us. One could not say that
there was any safety, even for her, among the men


who would harm Owen, though I thought that none
would be in the least likely to fall on Howel. Rather,
they would keep out of his way altogether. In my
own mind I wished that I was going alone, or with
none but Jago, though, on the other hand, it might
be possible that men would speak to him if they
would not to me. And at last I did persuade her
to bide here until we had news, promising that if
need was she should come and see the place herself
when all was known.

" Well, maybe it is not so needful that I should
go now," she said. " I thought that I alone could
tell my father when that valley was found, but you
know as much of it as I, and will be sure when you
stand in it."

And so we fell to talk of these visions which were
so much alike, and there was but one difference in
them. In the dream of the princess the pool had
been ruffled, and mine was still as glass. And that
seemed strange, and we could make nothing of it.
Then Howel came back, and there is little more to
say of the doings of that evening. There was no
feasting in Cerent's house now.

Very early in the next dawning Howel and I rode
westward with five score men of Cerent's best after
us, into wilder country than I had ever yet seen ;
and late in the evening we came to where the
countless folds of Dartmoor lie round the heads of
Dart River. And there Tregoz had set his house,
and I think that it was the first that had ever been
in those wilds, save the huts of the villagers. Only
the hall of the place had been burnt, and there
yet stood the house of the steward on the village


green, if one may call a meadow that had a dozen
huts round it by that name, and we bestowed our-
selves in the great room of that, while our men
found places in stables and outhouses and the huts.
Every man of the place had fled as they saw us
coming, for the fear of Cerent was on them ; but
the women and children remained, and they had
heard of the son of Owen, at least, since he and I
were in Dartmoor in the spring. I had some of
them brought to me when we were rested, and
told them that none need fear aught, knowing that
they would tell their menfolk. And so it was, for
after we had been quietly in the place for two days
the men were back and at their work again. I do
not think that even our Mendip miners were so
wild as these people, and their strange Welsh was
hard for me and Howel to understand. I will say
that the whole matter seemed hopeless for a time,
for no man would say anything to us about it. If
we spoke to a man, questioning him, and presently
wished to find him again, he was gone, and it would
be days ere he came back.

Some of our guards knew the country as well
as most, and with them we rode many a long mile
into the hills during the first few days, searching for
the deepest valleys, and ever did I look to see the
great menhir before me as we came to bend after
bend of the hills. Circles of standing stones we
found, and cromlechs, ruins of ancient round stone
huts where villages had been before men could
remember, and once we saw a menhir on the hillside ;
but that was not what I sought, and none could
tell us of the lost valley.


Yet it was in my mind as I questioned one or
two that their looks seemed to say that the de-
scription of the place was not unknown to them,
and if they would they could tell me more. At
last, when I came to know the speech better at the
end of a week, I thought that I would try another
plan ; I would trust to the shepherds, and ride
alone for once across the hills. I thought that,
even were I set upon, my horse would take me
from danger more quickly than hillmen could run,
and Howel, unwillingly enough, agreed that it
seemed to be the only chance. Maybe the men
would speak more openly with me on the hillside
and alone.

So I asked if there was any one could tell me
where there were menhirs in the valleys, and a
shepherd said that he knew two or three. So I
rode with him at my side to one of these, but it
was not that which I sought; and, as I hoped,
the man was more willing to speak, and we got
on well enough. We had not met with a soul
all day, but my hawk had taken two bustard after
I saw the stone and was disappointed. One of
these as a gift to the shepherd had opened his
lips wonderfully, and we were talking as we
rode in the dusk, and were not so far from the
village, of another stone that I was to see next
day, when I asked him if he had ever heard of
the lost valley of pool and menhir. He did not
answer, but shrunk to my side, looking round him

" What comes, Lord," he said, whispering ; " see
yonder ! "


He pointed across the bare hillside, and I looked
but saw nothing.

" I saw nought," I said. " Is it unlucky to speak
of the place ? "

" I saw somewhat leap from yonder rock," he
whispered ; " it went behind that other."

Plainly the man was terrified, and I asked him
what he feared.

The good folk, Lord."

" Pixies ? Do they come when one speaks of the
lost valley ? "

" Speak lower, Lord, lower ! Look, yonder it is
again ! "

Then I also saw in the dusk the figure of a man
who crept softly from one great boulder to another,
and without thinking of the terror of the shepherd
I spurred my horse, and rode straight for the rock
behind which the figure disappeared, having no
mind to have an arrow put into me at short range
by one of the men of Tregoz or of Morfed

The shepherd howled in fright when he was
left, but I did not heed him, and in a moment I
was round the rock and almost on the cowering
man whom I had seen. He turned to fly, and I
cried to him to stop, but he only got another rock
between me and him, for the hillside was covered
with them, and shrank behind it, so that I could
only see his wild eyes as he glared at me across it.
He said nothing, and I did not think that he was
armed, so far as the dim evening light would let
me see.

" Why are you dogging me thus ? " I cried ;


" come out, and no harm will befall you." I rode
round, and he shifted as I did, so that he was
between me and the shepherd, and then I called
to the latter that this was but a man, and bade him
come and help me to catch him. Whereon the
man looked swiftly over his shoulder and saw that
he was fairly trapped.

" Keep him back, Master," he said in a strange
growling voice, which was not that of a Dart-
moor savage either in tone or speech. " Keep
him back, and we will talk together; I mean no

But I had no need to tell the shepherd not to
come, for he bided where he was, being afraid ;
but I held up my hand to him as if to bid him be
still, lest the man should know that he would not
help me.

" Come out like a man," I said. " One would
think that you were some evil-doer."

" Master, I will swear that I am not. Let that be,
for I have somewhat to tell you that you will be
glad to hear "

" If that is true, why did you not come openly,
instead of waiting till I had you in a corner?
Every one knows that there is reward for news
from any honest man."

" There are those who would take my life if they
caught me, Master. I have been seeking for speech
with you alone all this day ; I hoped the shepherd
would leave you hereabout for his home, and then
I would have come to you."

"Well," I said, "if you could tell me what I
need to hear I will hold you safe from any."


" Master, will you swear that ? " said the man

Then it came across me that maybe this was
one of those who fell on Owen, for one might
well look for a traitor among so many. So I
answered cautiously : " Save and except you are
one of those who have wrought harm to the prince
you shall be safe. If you are one who has him alive
and in keeping you shall be safe also."

" Master, you have promised, and it is well
known that you keep your word. I am your man
henceforward, by reason of that promise. I will
give you a token that I have not harmed the

" What have you to tell ? "

" Master, they say that you seek the lost valley,
of which none will speak."

" That seems true ; but speak up, and mouth not
your words so."

" Here was I born and bred, Master," said the
man, still in the same growling voice. " I know
where the lost valley is hidden, though none may
go there save at peril of life. It is unlucky so much
as to speak thereof."

" Can you take me within sight of its place, so
that I can find it ? " I asked, with a wild hope at
last springing up in me.

" I can ; and, Master, unluckier than I am I cannot
be, so that life is little to me. Into that place I
will even go for you, and risk what may befall me,
if only you will find pardon for me. Only, I do
not know if you will find aught of Owen the prince


" You must be in a bad way, my poor churl,"
said I, "if things are thus with you. But if you
will help me to that place, and there let me find what
I may, there is naught that may not be forgiven
you. Even were it murder, I will pay the weregild
for you, and you shall have cause to say that the
place has no ill-luck for you."

" Thane," said the man, in a new voice that was
strangely familiar to me, " you have spoken, and
forgiven I shall surely be."

Then he rose from behind the rock and came
to my side, and took my hand and kissed it
again and again, and surely I had seen his form

" Thane, I am Evan the outlaw, and my life is
yours because you forgave me a little once, and
saved me from the wolves, giving that life back to
me when I knew it well-nigh gone."

I looked at the pale hair and beard of the
man, and wondered. Evan's had been black as

" It is Evan's voice," I said ; " but you have
changed strangely."

" Needs must I, Thane, with every man's hand
against me, if I would serve you and Owen the
prince for your sake."

Then I looked round for my shepherd, but he
had fled.

" Come to the house with me," I said. " I think
than none will know you, and if they do so I will
answer for you."

" No, Thane ; after to-morrow, seeing that even
Howel sets such store on finding the valley, as


men tell me, I shall be safe even from him. I
think that you are the only one who will trust
me yet."

There I knew that he was most likely right. Had
I not been certain that he could have kept me from
knowing him even yet, I think that I might have
been doubtful of him myself.

" As you will," I answered. " We can meet
to-morrow. Now give me that token by which
I am to know that you have not harmed

" It is right that you should not yet trust me,"
Evan said, as if he read my thoughts, " for I do not
deserve it. Here is one token : ' It is not good to
sleep in the moonlight.' And I will give you yet
another, if I may, for, indeed, I would have you
know that the words I spoke yonder were true when
I said that you should be glad that you freed me,
and that I have tried to serve you. That may be
known by the token of the blackthorn spine and
the dogvvhip."

I reined up my horse in wonderment and stared
at him, and he came close to my side, so that I
could see him plainly. And, lo ! his shoulders
grew rounded, and his eyes crossed terribly, and
they bided so, and he mumbled the words he
had said when the whip of the huntsman fell on

Then he straightened himself again and looked
timidly at me. He was not like the man who had
bound me so cruelly in Holford combe on the

" Evan," I cried, " what you did for me at the


ealdorman's gate is enough to win any pardon you
may need."

" It is wonderful that, after all, pardon should
come from you, Thane. Do you mind how I said
to you that I hoped to win it otherwise through you
when we took you on the Quantocks ? It is good
to feel as a free man once more."

" Free, and maybe honoured yet, Evan," I said ;
for I knew that he had risked his Hie for me and
Owen. " Presently you shall come with me to
Wessex, where none know you, and there shall
be a fresh life for you. It is in my mind that what
you brought on me was as a last hope."

" Ay, that is true, Thane."

And then I asked him to tell me all he knew
of Owen, and of what had happened here, and how
it came about that he knew aught. And as he
told me it was plain that this was a true tale,
for one could feel it so.

He had followed Owen, keeping himself hidden,
after I went to Winchester, for there he knew that
I was safe, and yet he would serve me if he could.
So from the hillside where he lay he had seen the
burning and the fight ; and after Owen fell he

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Online LibraryCharles W. (Charles Watts) WhistlerA prince of Cornwall : a story of Glastonbury and the West in the days of Ina of Wessex → online text (page 17 of 25)